China’s leaders launch public energy campaign

BEIJING, Reuters

China’s leaders have called on ordinary people to help tackle the “urgent” problem of booming energy demand and massive pollution, which they warn threatens growth, launching a huge propaganda campaign Saturday. “For the long term development of our Chinese nation, saving energy and reducing pollution are so important, so urgent,” Ma Kai, head of the powerful ministry that controls energy policy, said at the televised launch of the country’s first large-scale appeal to consumers to change their lifestyle.

“If we don’t change this situation…the economy will go badly and won’t go far,” he added, between videos highlighting China’s environmental and energy woes.

With pollution already causing unrest in some parts of the country, previous efficiency drives have largely focused on large companies and power-guzzling industries.

Much of the new plan has an old-fashioned didactic flavor, including a TV show called “Who is the energy saving champion”, and the slogan “conservation is glorious, waste is shameful.” At least one official booklet of energy saving tips has an austerity reminiscent of earlier communist eras. It recommends washing clothes by hand once a month, and cutting back on new outfits and even alcohol consumption.

“Drink 500 grams less of (Chinese spirit) baijiu and save the equivalent of 400 grams of coal,” it admonished drinkers in a country that produces over 2 billion tons of the fuel a year.

But other aspects — promoting energy saving light-bulbs and asking people to turn down air-conditioners — would sound familiar to environmentalists anywhere around the world.

Whether Beijing can convince a society so recently hooked on consumerism to return to more frugal ways is questionable, but the new tactic appeared to signal top officials’ mounting concern about an issue that makes them vulnerable at home and abroad.

Already dependent on foreign suppliers for nearly half its oil, China is also under international pressure about carbon dioxide emissions which are expected to overtake U.S. levels to become the world’s number one this year.